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Google employees dispute company's claim that AI researcher Timnit Gebru resigned

Gebru's supporters also said Google's policies were "applied unevenly and discriminatorily."

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Timnit Gebru

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A group of employee organizers at Google on Monday responded to the departure of Timnit Gebru, a star artificial intelligence researcher who said she was fired last week after co-writing a research paper critical of the company's AI systems. 

In a blog post, Gebru's supporters said she didn't resign from her position at Google, disputing a public statement made by Google head of research Jeff Dean. Last week, Dean tweeted an email he sent to Google employees about the researcher's exit, citing "concern over Timnit's resignation."

But Gebru has said she was fired by Google. In a series of tweets last week, Gebru said she hadn't resigned. However, Gebru said Megan Kacholiar, a vice president of engineering at Google, had emailed Gebru's direct reports to say she "accepted my resignation."

"We're setting the record straight on Dr. Timnit Gebru's firing," the blog post says.

Google and Gebru didn't respond to requests for comment.

At the center of the controversy is a research paper written by Gebru and four other Google employees about risks for bias when it comes to large language models in AI. The paper also examines models used in Google products including the company's marquee search engine. Gebru has said she and her colleagues were asked to retract the paper or take their names off of it. 

Google said the problem arose because Gebru and her team didn't follow Google's process for submitting research papers for approval, which Dean said requires a two-week window. Gebru's supporters said in the blog post that there's no "hard requirement" for the lead-up time and that "just under half" of papers are submitted with a day's notice or less. 

"So it is clear that this is a standard which was applied unevenly and discriminatorily," the group said. The blog post was published to the Medium account of Google walkout organizers, a group of current and former employees who put together a worldwide protest against the company in 2018 over its handling of sexual misconduct allegations against senior executives.

The blog post comes days after Gebru's departure set off a firestorm in the tech industry last week when she tweeted about her situation with Google. Almost 2,000 Google workers, as well as more than 2,600 other industry professionals, have signed an open letter in support of Gebru, which was also posted by Google walkout organizers.

The incident involving Gebru has intensified already fraught relations between Google management and some in its rank-and-file workforce. On the same day that Gebru tweeted about her departure, Google was accused by the US National Labor Relations Board of retaliating against workers who organized protests against the search giant. In a complaint, the agency said Google broke US labor laws by surveilling, interrogating and firing activist employees.

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